MLX Skates – A Reflection on the Evolution of Sports Equipment

Most people support new technologies emerging in sports – it’s good for the economy and it makes the games we play faster, easier, and safer. But I don’t swim with the school on this one. I’ve always sided with the anti-development team. If sports are supposed to be a competition of skill and talent, why let equipment provide an unfair bias?

One of my favourite arguements involves a fictional game of golf between two identical twins. If they go out to play a round today, and one uses the most expensive modern equipment he can find, and the other a set of 15 year old clubs and balls – well, my money is on the guy using the modern-alloy, oversized, custom fitted clubs.  The equipment has just come so far – but the result has just been that courses have had to be longer and rounds take more time and people opt for golf carts instead of walking.

But the best players should still be the best players – so really, all of this development has just meant longer playing times, more money spent, and higher real estate costs for courses.

I confess, I have two sides.

While part of me bemoans the constant push for something new, my other side has been known to rip logos off of my shoes to cut weight. Competitive nature always rules – from Bill Bowerman building his own track spikes to Andy Bathgate curving his own stick.

I would be foolish to overlook the fact that innovation:

1)      Can lead to safer activites

2)      Provides us with more used equipment – which means more people can afford to access new sports

3)      Makes activites easier to pick-up: lighter hockey sticks for children, better golf clubs for people who aren’t very good at golf, etc

I tell you this because myself and NHL All-Star Jonas Hiller have recently tried our hand with some new hockey equipment: the MLX skate. Named after part owner Mario Lemieux and sparked when Olympic speed skater Dave Cruikshank came around and said “Hey, look how awesome speed skates have become. Why are all of you hockey players still wearing those skates from the 80’s?” (paraphrasing) I believe Mario then said “Here are my feet, do what you want.”

The result of that awkward encounter is the MLX skate, who’s forward thinking innovations include:

Tendon Guards that Bend

  • It is ridiculous that it took someone this long to think of this. When you extend your foot in a full hockey stride, your toe is pointed, meaning there should be a straight line from your toe to your hip. Every skate ever has been built with a firm, unbendable tendon guard that makes this movement impossible. No one has ever bothered to build a flexible tendon guard before. I want to shake the MLX designers’ hands and then shake my head disapprovingly at every other skate manufacturer.

    The flexible tendon guard on the MLX (Left) allows for a full range of motion that, for some reason, no one ever thought would be of interest to hockey players

Removable Toe Cap

  • These skates have tiny inserts at the front of the boot, which means you can have a perfect fit even if you’re not perfectly normal and have a slight difference in size between your left and right foot. It  also allows youngin’s to grow a half size before needing new skates.

Shifting Blade Holder

  • This one actually confuses me a bit. The blade holder is held to the boot with screws (unlike the rivets found in traditional skates). Owners can loosen these screws and shift the blade holder left of right a few millimetres to make sure that their weight is centred on the skates. The problem I had with this is that there aren’t any easily accessible guides that show you how to figure this out – it’s essentially trial and error, and I was happy with the original location of the blade, so I didn’t move anything.

The Home Baking System

  • If you’ve bought a new pair of skates in the last few years you know that you can have them “baked” at the store – they literally put your skates in a skate-oven, then let you put them on and the skates mold to your feet. Now, for the first time, you get to enjoy the fresh smell of homemade brownies while customizing your hockey gear. MLX skates come ready to be baked in your regular old kitchen oven (Instructional videos on all of this can be found on the MLX page).

While older skates have been “heat moldable” , they’re not heat moldable like the MLX. My feet are pretty beautiful, but on the back on my right foot I do have what’s called a haglund’s bump (or haglund’s deformity for the politically insensitive). It’s basically a buildup of cartlidge on the back of my heel caused by years of running and skating (apparently high heels can cause them too, ladies).

Also of note – I had my leg run over by an Impala (the car, not the antelope) when I was 18, and after that accident, the skates I had been wearing – a pair of Flites – would dig into my ankle and cause extreme discomfort. So I switched to a pair of hand-me-down Nike’s and finally a pair of hand-me-down Grafs (It’s common for 26 year old men to get hand me downs, yes?) I also started wearing thick wool socks in my skates to make them more comfortable.

Now I am wearing the MLX’s and I’ll say this – they come with a warning that because the skates are so radically different from other models, it may take a few hours of skating to adjust to them. These are the most comfortable skates I’ve ever slid on. Wearing them was more akin to a well-fitted basketball shoe or track spike than a typical hockey skate.

Anyways, these skates did nothing to improve my sucky slapshot, so I am pretty disappointed about that, but otherwise, I am starting to come around on this “equipment innovation” thing.